The nerf patch for The Witchwood meta was released yesterday. You can read about all of the changes here, but just to recap everything quickly:
- Naga Sea Witch – Mana cost increased from 5 to 8.
- Spiteful Summoner – Mana cost increased from 6 to 7.
- Dark Pact – Healing decreased from 8 to 4.
- Possessed Lackey – Mana cost increased from 5 to 6.
- Call to Arms – Mana cost increased from 4 to 5.
- Crystal Core (The Caverns Below) – Global stats change decreased from 5/5 to 4/4.
The nerf patch usually happens 1-2 months after an expansion’s release (1.5 months in case of Witchwood) and has become a sort of unwritten rule. It’s the time when players have already more or less solved the meta, with a few decks clearly dominating it. It becomes boring, and players want to see something new – at least until another expansion gets announced. And the cycle continues.
Balance changes are important, because even a small card change can shake up the meta quite significantly. After spending a few hours in the game and watching streams, I’ve noticed that some of the new decks seem to be working better than the others, and I want to round them up in this article.
Keep in mind, though, that it’s the first day after the patch and people are usually trying to test new things. Decks that were nerfed are heavily underplayed for that reason, even though they might still be viable. On top of that, I have a limited sample size and base this list mostly on my own experience. I will release another list of standout decks a week from now, when the meta has already settled a bit – it will be backed by much more research and a bigger sample size. Treat this one as a sort of “early look at the post-nerf meta”.
Out with the Even, in with the Odd. Call to Arms nerf hurt Even Paladin, arguably the best deck in the pre-nerf meta, really badly. It was the highest win rate card in the deck, and for good reason – pulling out three 2-drops for 4 mana FROM YOUR DECK (so it’s like drawing them and playing them at the same time) is insane tempo. At 5 mana, the card would still be playable in the deck, but it obviously can’t run it, since it’s odd-costed now.
On the other hand, Odd Paladin does not want to play the nerfed Call to Arms, because pulling out three 1-drops is not really as good. I mean, the best case scenario of 2x Righteous Protector and a 2/1 would still be okay-ish, maybe even good enough to see play, but that’s only the best case scenario. Pulling out 2x Fire Fly and Argent Squire doesn’t sound as good.
So in the end, Odd Paladin plays exactly the same list it did before the nerfs. There might be some meta adjustments on the way, The thing is – Odd Paladin was not a bad deck before the nerfs, it was just outclassed by the other Paladin lists – so there was no real point in playing it. Right now, once Even Paladin is gone, it has a chance to shine.
Whether it WILL shine or not really depends on how the meta shapes over the next few days. Because the deck feels pretty solid right now, but the meta so far is very unfriendly.
Another Paladin deck that survived the nerfs seems to be Murloc Paladin. While 4 mana Call to Arms was great, the card is still solid at 5 mana in this build and it’s not that hard to fill Turn 4 with something else instead (such as Blessing of Kings or Gentle Megasaur). Just like in the Odd Paladin’s case, the deck list hasn’t changed at all.
Murloc Paladin’s main strength is snowballing. Alone, Murlocs aren’t too powerful, but if you start stacking them, buffing them and such, they can get out of hand really quickly. This aspect is still there, the deck can still snowball like crazy.
Depending on the meta, Murloc Paladin might be better or worse than Odd Paladin. Murloc version’s advantage is resilience – the minions are usually harder to kill, can get buffed out of AoE range more easily etc. On the other hand, the deck is much worse at refilling the board – playing against Odd Paladin sometimes feels like it has infinite amount of board refills.
However, just like in the case of Odd Paladin, meta seems to be quite heavy on the anti-Aggro decks for some reason, which means that it might take some time for the Paladin builds to really shine… if they will at all.
Many pros called Even Shaman a likely candidate for the best decks post-nerf patch. It was already going quite strong before the nerfs, and it was mostly stopped by Warlock’s popularity. Nerfs hit Warlocks pretty hard, and it might finally be Even Shaman’s time to shine. Which, to be completely honest, would be good, as the class was really underwhelming for the last few months.
I feel like the best list hasn’t been discovered yet, but I think that it will lean towards a more Midrange/Control play style, such as the one featured here. While you can try a more aggressive approach, with lots of 2-drops and stuff, the biggest problem is that it’s very hard to capitalize on them. If Bloodlust was even-costed, it would be a good way to do it, since you end up with a board full of tokens quite often. But then you realize that your tokens have 4 attack in total, you have a full board and you can’t really do anything to punish your opponent for not clearing (sometimes Flametongue Totem is a nice punish, but only for trading – if you don’t trade it just adds +4 damage, usually for a single turn, and that’s it).
The deck’s main problem seems to be lack of AoE clears. With Maelstrom Portal gone from Standard, the two AoE clears available to Shaman (Lightning Storm and Volcano) are both odd-costed. It would be nice to see an even-costed AoE clear for Shaman next expansion, then you could really make a full-fledged Even build.
I’m especially happy with how Hagatha the Witch is performing. Not only does it give the very necessary AoE clear against Aggro, but it also adds so much value vs slower decks. 10 extra spells you get for free throughout the game can do wonders. I won lots of games just because I got an extra Hex, or a proper AoE removal like Volcano from Hagatha.
Another card I really like too is Earthen Might, but not only as a way to get more value by buffing an Elemental. Totem on Turn 1 and Earthen Might on Turn 2 is often a great play – like getting a 2/4 Healing Totem on Turn 2 is amazing, it can let you control the board early vs those pesky small minions. The worst thing that can happen with this deck is falling behind early, since you have a very hard time coming back in the mid game, so something as simple as +2/+2 for 2 mana is often good enough if you can guarantee a minion on T1 every game.
After every expansion and every nerf patch, there is a brief time when Miracle Rogue starts shining. Sadly, it is usually quickly falling out of favor again, but Miracle is just great against those tad too greedy, unoptimized early builds.
Miracle Rogue’s greatest enemy is aggression. If you can build a deck that can kill the opponent quickly, it will usually work well against Miracle. With a rather weak early game, the necessity to take damage from the Hero Power early, and no mid game defensive tools/healing, the deck simply crumbles after facing too much pressure. However, this early meta so far seems rather… slow-ish. Well, maybe besides Odd Rogues, I keep queuing into them over and over again.
When it comes to the current builds, Miralce’s main win condition is definitely Fal'dorei Strider. With the amount of cycle this deck has, it’s very easy to get a few board floods, full of 4/4’s. Add the potentially insane tempo gains from cards such as Backstab, Sap or Eviscerate and you have a recipe for success.
Earlier in the game, Miracle Rogue can also snowball thanks to the Hench-Clan Thug or Edwin VanCleef – the first one can grow out of control if left unanswered, while the second one can be as big as 8/8 or 10/10 in the early game, with the right hand.
On top of that, the deck packs quite a nice burst with the Leeroy Jenkins combo. Leeroy himself deals 6 damage, but if you add a mix of Cold Bloods and Eviscerates, it’s easy to deal ~15 damage from the hand.
I don’t know what’s going on, but I keep queueing into Odd Rogues all the time. Out of my last 20 games, 9 have been Odd Rogues. And, to be fair, the deck feels quite powerful. It might possibly be the best Aggro deck after the nerf patch, at least right now. It was already okay before the nerfs, and not even a single piece of the deck was weakened. Which means that you can basically run the same build you used before the expansion and you will most likely be successful.
The deck’s main strength is the tempo from Hero Power, as well as the reach it provides over the course of the game. Creating a 2/2 weapon on demand is quite powerful, because unlike other Baku decks, you don’t need to Hero Power every single turn in order to keep the effect. You can Hero Power every second turn and still use your Hero Power’s full potential. And potential it has – throughout most of the early and mid game you mainly use it as a board control tool, but later in the game you just put your opponent on the clock by dealing 2 damage per turn.
Not being able to run even cards doesn’t hurt that much. I’d say that the only two cards I miss are Sap and Eviscerate, amazing tempo tools. But even without those, it feels like Odd Rogue will be a force to reckon with.
Spell Hunter used to be one of the top tier decks back at the end of Kobolds & Catacombs expansion, but that was mostly thanks to the Barnes + Y'Shaarj, Rage Unbound combo, which is no longer available. It also lost a really good Secret – Cat Trick – which made playing around Secrets much more difficult. The good news is that besides those cards, the rotation didn’t affect it in any way Another good news is that Barnes + Y’Shaarj can be somewhat substituted with To My Side!, and there are some other Secrets to choose from.
The thing is, both Barnes and Cat Trick were really useful in slower matchups, but they weren’t as necessary to win the faster ones. And so, the current Spell Hunter seems to prey on the faster decks, with all of the early game removals, weapons, and most importantly – Deathstalker Rexxar. This card is quite insane vs Aggro. Between the initial AoE damage and Armor gain + the fact that you have a high chance to find a Beast with Taunt, some sort of immediate board impact (e.g. Battlecry, Rush) or even Lifesteal.
Other type of decks that Deathstalker Rexxar can beat quite consistently are those slow, grindy decks. In those matchups, having an access to nearly infinite resources is amazing. Since your opponent can rarely That’s why the deck can, for example, beat the slow Warrior builds quite consistently, simply by running them out of removals (unless they play the Dead Man's Hand build, which lets them go infinite).
Spell Hunter’s biggest issue were the decks with some sort of combo that you couldn’t beat. That’s why, for example, it wasn’t doing too well vs Cube Warlock. Because at one point they WOULD either combo Doomguards with Cube and kill you, or play Bloodreaver Gul'dan and re-summon a whole board of Demons, and you had no way to answer that. Similarly, the deck si weak against the current Taunt Druid builds, which at one point resummons a whole board of Taunts few times in a row, and with no massive board clear, no Transform effects and even no Silence, you stand no chance in the long run, even if you could outvalue them.
Still, Spell Hunter is a solid choice right now, it has some solid matchups and besides the Taunt Druid I didn’t find a matchup that feels hopeless so far (even Taunt Druid doesn’t feel hopeless if you can curve with an upgraded Spellstone on Turn 5).
Taunt Druid got briefly popular early in the Witchwood meta. The deck was already tried out before multiple times, but the general consensus was – Hadronox is just too slow. And that’s kind of true – it has no immediate effect, weak stats, it’s vulnerable to Silence and transform effects… But what if, after initially triggering it with Naturalize (so it has immediate impact), you could resummon it for 3 mana? Well, now you can! Witching Hour is the card that made this deck viable. It’s easy to deal with one board full of Taunts, most of the Control decks would beat the hell out of Taunt Druid.
However, after initial board flood, you can do it again with Witching Hour + Carnivorous Cube. 6 Taunts + Cube. And what if your opponent tries to clear that? Well, your Cube pops, revealing two more copies of Hadronox. And if it gets Silenced first? Well, then you can try again with another Witching Hour + Cube combo. In the best case scenario, you should be able to flood the board with massive Taunts 5 or more times. It’s an amazing win condition in lots of matchups. Versus Aggro, you win on the spot, and against Control you put them in a very hard spot. They need a perfect mix of cards to answer everything.
Branching Paths is also MVP of the deck, because each of the options is really useful in different situations. Armor is obviously great when you need to survive, drawing is good if you’re running low on resources, and Attack is great after you flood the board with Taunts – with 7 minions on the board, Branching Paths is 14 damage for just 4 mana, often enough to just kill your opponent.
However, the deck’s main problem are Transform effects or ways to summon Beasts for your opponent. First of all – against both Shaman’s Hex and Mage’s Polymorph, not only you can lose a big Taunt such as The Lich King from the pool, but also potentially mess up your Witching Hour (since the Frog/Sheep have a Beast tag). Then, there are also other ways to tech against it – Warrior can destroy it with Cornered Sentry (even just running Stonehill Defender is often good enough to get one), and other decks can tech in Tinkmaster Overspark, which can be quite reliably used to both answer a big Taunt and mess up with the Witching Hour. Which most likely means that the deck will never become Tier 1 – there are just too many ways to answer it. But if not enough people run counters, then it’s a really fun and good deck choice.
This is the deck I’m probably most surprised with. While I thought that some Druid deck might turn out to be good, I didn’t think that it would be the Token variant, which was a mediocre off-meta deck at best before the changes.
However, it makes a lot of sense. The deck was completely destroyed by both slow Warlock builds (Cube/Control) (because it had so many AoE) AND by Control/Mind Blast Priest (both because it had so many AoE and because Psychic Scream against a board full of tokens was, to say the least, not fair). Right now, neither of those decks is really popular. It doesn’t meant that everything will stay that way for long, but right now it’s like a perfect time to run this deck.
The deck’s game plan is simple. Outside of the usual ramp/removals/card draw and such, you mostly have two types of cards – those that flood the board and those that capitalize on flooding the board. First type of cards are stuff such as Wispering Woods, Living Mana, Violet Teacher and Spreading Plague. And once you flood the board, you can add a Deathrattle that summons stuff (Soul of the Forest), give them +1/+1 (Power of the Wild), or just give them +2 Attack, which is often enough to kill your opponent. A board with five 1/1’s doesn’t look too menacing – 5 damage and that’s it. But if Druid plays Savage Roar + Branching Paths, that’s suddenly 27 damage in total.
The best way to win is to combo a board flood card with Soul of the Forest in a single turn. Lots of the decks don’t have a way to handle that. Let’s say Big Spell Mage – even though they run a lot of AoEs, the only way to play two in a single turn is 2x Dragon's Fury, which rarely happens. Or let’s say an Even Shaman – they can drop Kalimos, Primal Lord or Hagatha the Witch, but that’s only one instance of AoE, and you’re still left with a bunch of 2/2’s.
The deck is pretty fun to play, even though it might seem like it doesn’t really have a proper win condition at first, you just win so many games out of nowhere. And it has amazing anti-Aggro capabilities. After running Taunt Druid for a while, I almost forgot how powerful Spreading Plague is against Aggro boards, especially against Odd Paladin, where it often just seals the game on the spot.
The deck might be more popular than Cube or Control Warlock simply because people want to experiment with new stuff instead of playing the same old things, not because it’s actually the best Warlock deck right now, but we’ll have to wait a few more days to see that. Unlike Control & Cube Warlock, Even Warlock wasn’t affected by the nerfs at all. It didn’t play Possessed Lackey or Dark Pact for obvious reasons. It actually CAN play Lackey right now, but there’s really no point, since there aren’t really any Even demons oyu would want to summon from it (and the deck has no good way to proc it anyway).
This deck is the closest thing we had to a classic Handlock in a while. There are some advantages of the Turn 1 Hero Power. First and probably most importantly in slower matchup, you can drop a Turn 3 Mountain Giant when going second, and that’s huge. Even T4 Giant is often hard to answer and can win the game, imagine how much better it is when you can drop it even earlier.
The second important thing is that you can tap in the early game without sacrificing so much tempo. For example, on Turn 3, you can Tap and still drop a Doomsayer. In a normal Warlock, you have to choose between one or the other. And if you go first, in a normal Warlock, dropping T3 Doomsayer means that you can’t go for T4 Giant.
It’s also easier to weave in your Hero Power in general when you’re looking for a certain card. Let’s say that you have 3 mana left and you need a Defile – normally even if you would draw it, you wouldn’t have a way to play it without Coin.
All of those advantages might not seem big individually, but they add up quite nicely. Which makes Even Warlock, or Handlock, a pretty interesting deck. I also like Rin, the First Disciple tech – the deck can always win in faster matchup just by controling the board, but in slow matchups, if they had a way to deal with all your big threats (which wasn’t that uncommon), you simply had no way to close out the game. Rin gives you a way to seal the game even if your aggression won’t work.
Also, keep in mind that this is not really a Control deck. It’s more of a Midrange build – unless you’re set on the Rin win condition already, you want to play aggressive in slow matchups. Drop those Giants, Drakes, and other threats on curve and try to seal the game quite quickly. Remember that you don’t have any way to combo down your opponent in the late game, outvalue them in a long run or something, and you can’t always rely on Rin to work.